Teaching English in Russia 1: The Agony and the Ecstasy!

I have been teaching in Ekaterinburg since September 2009 at Language Link on Chernyshevskovo Street.  I decided to come to Russia because I studied the Russian language at university some years ago, but didn’t spend that much time here. I chose to come to Ekaterinburg because I had already visited Moscow and St Petersburg and wanted to see another part of the country.

They say that changing jobs and moving house are among life’s more stressful experiences, and, having changed jobs and simultaneously moved country I can certainly vouch for that. My first term here was characterized by late nights preparing lessons, wandering the streets in a dazed fashion trying to get my bearings, and staring blankly at previously untried products in the supermarket.  I don’t mind admitting that on my second day teaching here I seriously considered hightailing it back to the UK. But, despite the stresses of that first term, I knew I’d made the right decision to come here for all sorts of reasons.

Here are the things I like about teaching in Russia: the majority of my students are well-educated, thoughtful people with enquiring minds and a genuine enthusiasm for learning my mother tongue.  I like observing the way the different personalities work in the class, with everyone contributing in their own way.  My students are a mixed age range, and I enjoy not only watching the younger generation begin to make their way in the brave, relatively new world of Russian capitalism, but also hearing comparisons of the past and the present from the older ones.  Also, I like the difference in perspective that being in such a different part of the world to my native city brings: a recent class discussion about the dangers of city life brought up not the subjects that I’d expected, such as pollution and  terrorism, but wild dogs, falling icicles and the need to dodge items being thrown from windows!

There are things I find difficult, of course.  As something of an introvert, I find it hard to stand up in front of a class and be in charge – although, if I were to take the ‘glass half full’ perspective, I would acknowledge that it is a character-building experience!  As a relatively new teacher, I still find I spend a lot of time on lesson preparation and sometimes wonder where my life as a teacher ends and my own life begins.  Also, there are certain aspects of English grammar that are difficult to teach here: neither the definite and indefinite articles (the words ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’, to those unfamiliar with the terminology), nor the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense, exist in Russian.  My attempts to teach these subjects could, I suspect, reduce both me and my students to tears.  Add to the mix pronunciation issues which cause confusion to many Russians, such as the difference between the English short ‘i’ (‘fish’) and the long Russian ‘i’ sound (‘cheap’), or the difference between the soft English ‘h’ and the more guttural Russian ‘kh’, and there’s plenty to keep the English teacher and his/her students busy for a few years.

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This article first appeared on www.e1.ru, the Ekaterinburg city website. I taught English as a foreign language in Russia between September 2009 – July 2010.

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